The NBA All Time Alphabet league today turns to the letter L.
A reminder that the Alphabet League lineups are not simply a collection of great players starting with a certain letter – they need to work together out on the court, as well. You'll see no 3-centre squads here. And the L's are one of the best examples of the balance that we're looking for.
A well rounded team, the L's contain scoring from all over the court, solid play making, outstanding rebounding and one obvious candidate aside, great defense.
Point Guard - Damian Lillard
It’s been quite a journey for Damian Lillard. From being a 2-star college recruit, to being a top 10 pick despite playing for a small school, to NBA Rookie of the Year, to being named to 4 All NBA teams, to playing in 5 All Star games, to the culmination in everything he’s worked for: being named point guard for Inside Sports's L Team. Chase your dreams, kids.
Lillard has electrified the league since he first set foot in Portland, never averaging less than the 19 points per game he put up as a rookie, and peaking with the 28.9 he’s giving the Blazers this season.
A scorer at heart, Dame’s play making has improved throughout his career. This season’s career high of 7.8 is indicative of the MVP calibre season he’s enjoying. He’s not getting the press that his season probably deserves due to the sheer domination of Giannis & LeBron, and the lack of success his injury riddled squad has 'enjoyed' this campaign. Make no mistake, though: Dame has been incredible this season:
His masterclass against Golden State on Martin Luther King day this year is a must watch for any hoops head.
Dame’s shot making off the dribble, especially from deep, is unparalleled. That opens up the lanes for his quick first step. Defensively Lillard is….not the greatest. But it’s not for lack of work. Lillard is a leader both on and off the floor. He sets the tone, and the culture. He’s a fine leader for the L Team.
Shooting Guard – Lafayette 'Fat' Lever
Criminally underrated, the wonderfully monikered Lafayette Lever is the perfect do-it-all back court foil for the high octane Lillard.
Fat Lever is a name that most casual NBA fans wouldn't know – and that's fine. In an era where Magic, Stockton, Isaiah, Price and Cheeks dominated the point guard conversation, Lever's low-flash, dirty-work style simply didn't resonate. Frankly, it should have.
Lever was Jason Kidd, before there was Jason Kidd, except Lever could shoot. The 6'3” guard was a stat stuffing dynamo on Doug Moe's uptempo Nuggets of the mid 80's. Let's play a little game. The table below has the stats of two 1980's point guards from the 1987 through 1990 seasons. Which one do you think is Fat? Can you guess who the other player is?
Player A is Lever. Player B? Magic Johnson. That's right, folks. Through his prime years, Lever was statistically comparable to the greatest point guard of them all. Frankly, it's criminal that Lever only has a single All NBA, a pair of All Star appearances and a solitary All Defensive team to his name.
Lever's lack of appreciation in the modern game is likely a result of his game being completely no frills, and of Lever himself being totally comfortable outside of the limelight. His game was built on hard work and grit. His unassuming personality meant that he didn't seek the highlight reel play when making the simple pay would do. That's a shame. The basketball world needs to appreciate Fat Lever more than it does.
Small Forward – Kawhi Leonard
The Fun Guy is the obvious candidate for the small forward spot on the L Team.
It’s an anomaly that the man who might be the best basketballer in the world today has only played in 4 All Star games over 9 seasons, but it’s true. Leonard was brought along fairly slowly as a youngster in San Antonio. On a team with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, Kawhi didn’t have to shoulder the offensive burden, which allowed him to concentrate on carving a niche on the defensive end. The niche he carved seemed to involve snatching the souls of his opposition.
Kawhi wasn’t an All Star until the 2016 season, by which time he’d already claimed the first of his 2 Defensive Player of the Year awards, and a Finals MVP. That 2016 season was the beginning of the player we are all in awe of these days. If we exclude his injury ruined 2018 season (more on that in a moment) Leonard has put up 24.9 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.9 made three pointers. The accolades have piled up, as well:
4x All Star
3x All NBA
2x NBA Champion
2x Finals MVP
5x All Defensive
2x Defensive Player of the Year
2015 Steals leader
These days Kawhi is feared at both ends of the floor. His defensive numbers aren’t what they were, but that mostly out of respect: teams simply direct their offense away from whoever the Claw is guarding out of fear that he might just consume them whole. On offense, he was becoming a force in his final full season in San Antonio. Then, Zaza happened…..and things were never the same.
Leonard’s controversial injury absence from the Spurs in 2018 led to a irrevocable breakdown in his relationship with the team – previously unheard of in such a model organisation – that lead to his lopsided trade to The North. In Toronto, Kawhi is a legend: one season; one championship. A second finals MVP.
Now in LA, with his very own made-to-order Superteam, can Kawhi lead a 3rd franchise to the promised land?
Power Forward – Jerry Lucas
A man before his time, Lucas would have thrived in today’s NBA. As a 6’8” big man, Lucas was one of the leagues dominant rebounders through the 1960’. He remarkably averaged over 20 points and rebounds per game in back to back seasons in 1965 and ‘66. The prime reason he would have thrived in the modern game, however was his jump shooting.
In an era where the big man never ventured more than about 8 feet from the basket, Lucas regularly stretched the floor shooting from beyond the modern 3 point line (remember, the arc had yet to be invented). His ferocious rebounding, floor stretching ability and underrated play making (he averaged over 4 assists per game in 3 separate seasons) would make him an ideal power forward in the modern game. Imagine Lucas in the Rockets offense! His floor spacing for Harden and Westbrook, whilst giving up nothing at the defensive end would be a match made in heaven, just like it was for his superstar teammate in Cincinnati, the famously non-shooting Oscar Robertson.
The Hall of Famer was named All NBA on five occasions, and played in 7 All Star games. He was a collegiate superstar and an Olympic gold medallist. Lucas finally claimed his ring as a backup big with the Knicks in 1973, when he was still a starting quality player, but made the conscious choice to sacrifice his own stats to solidify the 2nd unit, giving New York the best bench unit in the league.
Centre – Bob Lanier
Lanier was one of the most well rounded centres of his era; a genuine five tool player.
The #1 pick in the 1970 draft was an 8 time All Star in Detroit and Milwaukee. He spent the prime of his career as a Piston, teaming with Dave Bing to lead an otherwise moribund team to the playoffs on multiple occasions. Lanier could do everything that was demanded of him. As a Piston, he averaged 22.7 points (all time team leader), 11.8 boards, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals and a pair of blocks.
Lanier wasn’t a big leaper, but he was brutally strong and leveraged that strength with excellent positional sense at both ends of the floor. He was very skilled, play making from the low post whilst being able to confidently step out to 18 feet to rain jumpers on centres who didn’t chase him. Both Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Willis Reed have rated him as their toughest opponent, due to his physicality and clever, unsettling defense.
A 30 year old Lanier was traded in 1980 to the star studded Milwaukee Bucks, where he finally tasted consistent playoff basketball. Alongside Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, Quinn Buckner and late career Dave Cowens he led the best Bucks teams since the early 1970’s. As a Buck he made – at worst – the 2nd round of the playoffs in each of his 5 seasons. He was still a productive player late into his career, playing in an All Star game as a 33 year old, and in his final season (aged 35) he produced 13.6 points and 6.3 boards a game.
Remarkably, Lanier never made an All NBA team, although that was due partly to the lack of team success his Pistons enjoyed, and his unfortunate timing of playing in an era where Kareem, Gilmore, Reed, Cowens, Walton, Hayes and late career Wilt roamed the paint.